Paperless port project gets shippers’ backing

Stakeholders in the country’s maritime business have unanimously lauded government’s paperless port programme, citing significant improvement in the ease of doing business within the ports’ enclave as well as the reduction in time and cost associated with goods clearance.

At a stakeholders meeting to review the paperless port regime’s impact, organised by the Ghana Shippers’ Authority in Accra, they said the paperless port agenda is living up to expectation a year into its take-off.

Officials from the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA), Ghana Union of Traders Associations (GUTA), Association of Customs House Agents Ghana (ACHAG) and the two systems operators, GCNet and West Blue Consulting, all attested that paperless transactions at the ports have brought relief to the shipping community.

Chief Executive Officer of Tropical Cables and Conductors and chairman for the occasion, Tony Oteng-Gyasi, said of the exercise: “As a shipper, and based on the transactional records from the clearance of goods from the ports to my factories, it is obvious to me that there has been a considerable improvement in the clearance process.

“The question now is how we can improve the system continuously, because for a nation that is seeking rapid growth anchored on agro-processing, manufacturing etc., the port remains very critical and its efficiency cannot in any way be undermined.”

Despite the project’s success so far, industry players called for continuous capacity building and cooperation to better develop the paperless port regime and to also push advancement of the maritime and shipping business.

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They also implored implementing agencies to ensure that the paperless system is extended to cover other sector activities, including exports, transit and warehousing.

“There is a need to completely integrate Customs-bonded warehouses onto the paperless process, as well as ensure full integration of all stakeholders’ systems involved in the shipping and clearance process,” they said.

From the perspective of the shipping lines/agents, the paperless project at the ports has among others reduced the release timelines for cargo/document; and, more importantly, slightly reduced demurrage payments.

The average dwell-time of containers – how long it takes for a container to be picked up at the terminal after being unloaded from a vessel – has also come down to 11 days from 16 to 22 days previously.

Also, shipping lines/agents are now able to submit manifests five days prior to vessel arrival instead of the previous three days, a procedure that allows enough time for Customs to undertake risk management and other internal or background processes.

Vice-President of the Shipowners and Agents Association of Ghana (SOAAG), Adam Imoro Ayarna said: “We add our voice that the paperless project is an on-going success story, and to tell it well we should own the process and all stakeholders should be fully committed to it. If this is continuous, the cost and ease of doing business in Ghana could drastically improve”.

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But he added: “It is however important for all of us to see each other as a partner, because private business thrives in a conducive business environment.

“Let us use this and other such policies to drive the change in attitude of our society – and not just change, but a positive change that will have a positive impact in all that we do and most importantly on people.”

According to Mr. Ayarna, further improvements in the paperless process will reduce cost to the shipper, especially in the payment of demurrage and rent which are meant to be an ‘avoidable costs’.

The Chief Executive Office of Ghana Shippers’ Authority, Ms. Benonita Bismarck, told B&FT the rationale behind the review forum: “This appraisal of the paperless system was to espouse the achievements while highlighting the challenges which may have come with its implementation, to enable relevant authorities put in place remedial actions to steer its success”.

She opined that the paperless system’s ideals are achievable as the necessary structures have been firmly established, but still urged sustained collaboration among sector actors.

“Despite the gains, there is still need for collaboration among industry players to ensure that the system is fully-oiled to deliver the lofty goals as envisioned by government,” she indicated.

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